Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Child's Play" (1988)

Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif
Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland
Directed by Tom Holland

"Child's Play" isn't really a great movie, but it does have one contribution to make to the world of film that makes the whole thing worthwhile: Chucky. 

The story, absurd though it may be, concerns a murderer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) who is pursued and shot by Police Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon).  Ray takes refuge in a toy store and performs some kind of wacky voodoo ritual to transfer his soul into a popular talking toy doll before he dies.  The ritual destroys the store, and Ray is pronounced dead.  Later, a peddler manages to find an undamaged doll and sells it to Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) for her young son's birthday. 

What neither Karen nor Andy (Alex Vincent) know is that the doll is actually the one into which Ray installed his soul.  The doll introduces itself to Alex as "Chucky," and quickly begins to assert a bad influence on the child.  Worse, Chuck wastes almost no time killing Alex's babysitter, Maggie (Dinah Manoff) by beating her in the head with a hammer and knocking her out the window. 

Norris is assigned the case, and obviously doesn't believe that the doll could possibly be responsible for murder, even though Alex insists it was Chucky.  The next day, Chucky visits the home of his old accomplice and murders him, too.  Alex is picked up by the scene, and once again blames the murder on Chucky, which gets him placed into a psychiatric hospital for treatment. 

Chucky is told by his old friend the voodoo doctor that he must transfer his soul into a real human body before it's too late, and heads to the hospital to transfer himself into Andy.  Karen and Norris figure it out, but they get to the hospital too late - Andy has escaped after being attacked at the hospital by Chucky, who killed Andy's doctor.  Karen and Norris head home and interrupt Chucky's ritual just as he's about to transfer his soul into Andy's body. 

"Child's Play" is pretty silly.  Chucky, despite his diminutive size, is somehow capable of being a stone-cold murderer.  But, limited by either the special effects of the time or by the total absurdity, Chucky rarely seems so to us as the audience.  Sure, he's an impressive bit of puppetry and animatronics... but I can't really take it seriously when a trained police detective can't hit the brakes in his car while being strangled by a toy doll. 

While that might sound like a criticism, it's really not - "Child's Play" is a lot of fun because of how ridiculous it all is.  The cast seems to know it, and strikes a fine balance between tongue-in-cheek and seriousness.  Sarandon, especially, seems to be having a good time.  Hicks does a fine job as the widowed mother, frazzled by her workload and trying to care for her child by herself.  The weak link in the cast is Alex Vincent, who, like many child actors, really isn't a good actor.  His delivery is flat, and he's not very expressive, either. 

The real star of the show is Dourif.  Although his role as Chucky is somewhat limited - he only gets to voice the doll in the latter half of the film, as the first half is spent with him basically hiding inside the doll.  Still, Dourif's voice is a great match for the murderous doll, and he nails the intensity and anger.  Dourif is probably a huge part of why Chucky has resonated with horror fans for over 20 years now.  He's tons of fun... and a fairly impressive bit of effects work, as well.

"Child's Play" is fun, but it's not particularly scary.  Maybe in 1988, I'm not sure.  But the film seems to know that.  Impressive special effects, fun performances and a few silly, fun sequences make it a fun watch.  It's Chucky himself that's more impressive and memorable than the rest of the movie around him.